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Honouring the Forest men who fell on D-Day

The Battle for Normandy.

Local Men in Action.

This year is the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings which took place on 6th June 1944. The British, Canadian and United States forces landed on five beaches in Normandy and began the process of liberating Western Europe from Nazi occupation.

The focus of the commemorations during this anniversary was on the beach landings of the 6th of June. However, France was not considered liberated until 25th August 1944 when Paris was finally re-captured. Men from the New Forest area were involved in the fighting from D-Day through to the liberation. These are the stories of five local men who lost their lives during the battle for France in 1944.

Victor Hobby from Lymington

Victor Reginald Hobby was the son of John and Hannah Hobby. Victor was born in Ringwood in 1907. The 1911 census shows the family living in No.4 Byron Road New Milton. In 1912 Victor’s sister Violet was born, and six years later brother Eric arrived.

Victor joined the 1st Battalion the Hampshire Regiment in the 1930s. In 1935 he was awarded the Indian General Service Medal with the North West Frontier 1935 clasp.

Reflections week 26: Hampshire Regiment troops coming ashore on 6th June 1944 (courtesy Royal Hampshire Regiment Museum)
Reflections week 26: Hampshire Regiment troops coming ashore on 6th June 1944 (courtesy Royal Hampshire Regiment Museum)

In January 1938 Victor married Dorothy Maud Cleall. Their son Eric was born later that year. By 1939 Dorothy and her son were living with her parents in Nelson Place, Lymington, while Victor was serving in the army.

The 1st Battalion the Hampshire Regiment saw service in India until 1938 when it was posted to Palestine. It later served in Egypt before forming part of 231 Brigade along with the 1st Dorsets and 2nd Devons. They were the garrison on the island of Malta during the siege. The battalion later took part in the invasion of Sicily and Italy.

In September 1943 Victor was reported as wounded in action while serving in Sicily. He recovered and was posted back to England with the battalion in November 1943 to train as part of the Normandy invasion force.

The 231 Brigade, by then part of the 50th Division, was camped in the New Forest, training at Cadlands in Fawley and Beaulieu. They carried out several practice assault landings at Studland Bay and on Hayling Island.

The bunker on Gold Beach which held up the Hampshire Regiment
The bunker on Gold Beach which held up the Hampshire Regiment

On 6th June the 1st Hampshires along with the other battalions of 231 Brigade landed on Gold Beach near the village of Le Hamel. The landing was opposed by two German strongpoints. One bunker faced along the beach and was equipped with an anti-tank gun as well as machine gunners. The battalions came ashore, under fire with little armoured support. Eventually the bunkers were knocked out and by the end of the day the battalion had captured the nearby town of Arromanche. This enabled the artificial harbour to be constructed which was a major asset in bringing men, vehicles, stores and supplies ashore.

On 6th June the regiment lost 182 men killed or wounded. Sadly, Victor was among those casualties. He is buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery in Bayeux.

Reflections week 26: SAS gravesc communal cemetery, France
Reflections week 26: SAS gravesc communal cemetery, France

Frederick Fryer from Hordle

Frederick Fryer was born in Romsey in 1922. He was the only son of Frederick and Lily. In January 1940 Frederick enlisted into the Hampshire Regiment. He completed his basic training at the depot in Winchester. In December 1941 Frederick married Betty Emily Chamberlain from Hordle.

Frederick was posted to the 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment stationed in Egypt. He was attached to the Royal Fusiliers who were sent to Syria to fight the Vichy French forces. Fred was captured by the enemy but released after six weeks. He rejoined his battalion and was, like Victor Hobby, part of the garrison of Malta during the two-year siege.

The battalion returned to Egypt in 1942. They trained hard and were one of the spearhead units for the invasion of Sicily in July 1943 and later the invasion of Italy. This gave Frederick and his comrades the experience of amphibious landings. The battalion returned to England in late 1943 as part of 50th Division to train for the Normandy landings. This was the first time Frederick had been home since 1940. He was able to spend Christmas 1943 with his wife.

On 6th June 1944, Frederick Fryer and his comrades landed on Gold Beach. For many in the Hampshire Regiment this was their third opposed amphibious landing. The Hampshires were the first British infantry to arrive in France. By the end of D-Day they had captured the town of Arromanche and were dug in. 50th Division began to move inland, liberating small villages and towns. The countryside was ideal for the defending German troops. There were sunken country lanes with high hedges, wheat fields and orchards which hid 88mm anti tank guns supported by machine guns and mortars. This made the allies advance extremely hard work and costly in terms of casualties.

On 18th June Frederick and 1st Hampshires were part of a brigade attack on the village of Hottot. The village was initially captured but a German counter attack with armour support retook it. The Devonshire Regiment managed to take the village once again but had to withdraw. On 11th July 1944, Hottot, known to 1st Hampshires as ‘Hotspot’ was attacked again by the entire 50th Division. During the course of this attack, the battalion was the victim of friendly fire from British artillery and RAF Typhoon fighter bombers. Nevertheless the German outposts around Hottot were captured. The village finally fell a week later.

Sadly 22-year-old Frederick Fryer was one of the 34 other ranks killed during the fighting on the 11th. Frederick is buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in Bayeux. The epitaph on his grave reads: ‘Though sleeping in a far-off grave, dear one, you are not forgotten.’ Frederick is remembered on the Hordle War Memorial.

Richard Mapp from Hinton

Richard Mapp's grave in Normandy
Richard Mapp's grave in Normandy

Richard Mapp was the son of Mr and Mrs G Mapp of Bashley Manor House. He was educated at Blundells School and at Cirencester Agricultural College. He played rugby for New Milton and Bournemouth. Richard worked for Hinton Admiral Estate Office. He joined the Territorial Army in 1939 and was commissioned into the Royal Artillery. In 1940 he married Phyllis Penwarden of Hinton House. Richard was commanding a battery of four 25-pounder guns when he landed in Normandy on 25th June.

On 9th July 1944, his battery was in action as part of the build-up to Operation Jupiter, to capture ground north of Caen. The following day, the battery war diary records that Major Mapp was severely injured while supporting an infantry attack. It is most likely he was the victim of counter battery fire. Richard died of his wounds and is buried in Bayeux War Cemetery. His death was reported in this newspaper on 25th July 1944.

Donald Phillips from Milford

An SAS jeep similar to the one used by Donald Phillips in 1944
An SAS jeep similar to the one used by Donald Phillips in 1944

Donald Phillips was the son of Albert and Martha Phillips. Martha was from Boldre and Albert from Lymington. The couple married in October 1915. Donald had an older brother and sister. The family lived at 2 Stanley Terrace, Keyhaven Road, Milford. He featured in this newspaper as a prize-winner or highly commended in children’s competitions in the 1930s.

Donald enlisted in the Hampshire Regiment and was posted to North Africa. He volunteered to join the Special Air Service and took part in the second raid the unit carried out, which was to attack airfields behind German lines. On 8th December 1941 the Long Range Desert Group ferried two five-man patrols of the SAS to a point 10 miles from the targets. A couple of days later another two SAS patrols were brought to within striking distance of other German airfields. On the night of 21st December the teams simply walked onto the desert aerodromes and set their explosives on the relatively unguarded aircraft. Donald’s team were responsible for destroying 37 German aircraft. The SAS patrols marched to the rendezvous point and were picked up by the LRDG and brought back to their base.

Within a few days of returning, Donald and another team were deployed to attack an airbase at a location known as Marble Arch, which was an Italian monument. Having completed their mission they returned to the rendezvous point to await pick-up. The LRDG unit had been sent to a different location to collect them. After waiting six days, the men, by now exhausted and with little or no water left, decided to walk 200 miles across the desert to British lines. They set off marching for 50 minutes and resting for 10. At one point Donald and the patrol commander managed to capture two Germans with a jerrycan full of water. They stole some food from Italian vehicles, and later at night hijacked a German car. They persuaded one of the Germans to drive the vehicle east towards British lines. Eventually the patrol managed to arrive in a British outpost and survived the ordeal.

In May and June 1944 the Special Air Service were infiltrated behind German lines, south of Poitiers in France, as part of Operation Bulbasket. Donald Phillips parachuted in on either 7th or 11th June. They began to carry out sabotage missions in order to slow the advance of German armoured units heading towards the Normandy landings. The SAS patrols had jeeps parachuted into them and they started attacking the main railway lines.

The group – consisting of 40 SAS men, a downed American pilot and 10 French resistance fighters – set up a camp in Verrieres Woods. On 3rd July the camp was attacked by about 500 German SS troops. The SAS leader, Captain Tonkin, gave the order to disperse. Thirty-three men were captured. Hitler had ordered that all Special Forces personnel were to be executed. One SAS officer was beaten to death in front of local villagers. On 7th July the remainder were taken into woodland and were shot. Their bodies were rediscovered after the area was liberated. They were exhumed and reburied with full military honours in Rom Communal Cemetery. Don Phillips is commemorated on a panel in All Saints Church, Milford.

Leslie Horton from Hordle

Leslie Charles Horton was the son of John and Margaret Horton of Hordle. Leslie grew up in the village. After leaving school he worked as a carpenter for HH Drew, the local builder in New Milton. He was called up for military service at the beginning of the war, initially as a carpenter building army camps in the United Kingdom. On 2nd August 1941 Les married Winifred Grayer of Wootton. The wedding was reported in the New Milton Advertiser and Lymington Times.

Reflections week 26: British 5.5 Inch guns firing in Normandy, as used by Leslie Horton
Reflections week 26: British 5.5 Inch guns firing in Normandy, as used by Leslie Horton

Les was posted to the 8th Battalion, the Buffs, the Royal West Kent Regiment. In early 1943, there was an urgent need for more artillery units. The 8th battalion were converted into an artillery battery and became the 9th Medium Regiment Royal Artillery. They were equipped with 5.5-inch guns which had a range of 16,000 yards. In preparation for embarkation the battery ended up at Great Ballard School, New Milton. Here they waterproofed their vehicles and made final preparation for embarkation. The regiment landed in Normandy on 14th July and were soon in action supporting the infantry of 43rd Wessex Division.

Leslie Horton
Leslie Horton

On the 2nd August 1944 Lance Bombardier Leslie Horton was killed along with his gun crew when a shell they were firing prematurely exploded. Les and his comrades are buried together at Ranville War Cemetery.

Our local men did great deeds in Normandy 80 years ago.

Nick Saunders MA is a local historian and writer. He is the chair of the Milton Heritage Society. He can be contacted via nick@miltonheritagesociety.co.uk

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